“Learn about light and optics, you will …”
~ Master Yoda
“The art of simplicity is a puzzle of complexity.”
~ Douglas Horton
I recently purchased a Giants jigsaw puzzle (awesome) of AT&T Park, and wanted to open it. We don’t really do jigsaw puzzles, so when I thought about starting it, I realized if I wasn’t going to sit down and do the whole thing in a weekend, I’d need to either dedicate a space for the puzzle so it could stay undisturbed until I could complete it … or figure something else out. I remembered that they sell jigsaw puzzle mats where you build the puzzle on the mat and when you need to store it you just roll the whole thing up, and I thought about buying one of those … but like I said, we really don’t do jigsaw puzzles so I realized I didn’t want to spend money on a mat just for that.
I thought, “What are those things, anyway? Are they made from special material, like rubber or neoprene or something? Could I just make one myself?”
Aha! That’s just what I decided to do. Frugality FTW!
I went online and found a few sites with DIY instructions, like this mat from “Organized Christmas”, but it still kinda seemed like a lot of trouble to go through for something I wasn’t sure I was going to use that often. The patterns I saw involved lots of sewing and cutting different pieces of fabric to make the mat all nice, with ties and other touches. They were using rotary cutters and cutting mats, hot glue guns, sewing machines … blech! That’s cool if you’re making the mat as a gift (most of them were), but I just needed to store a puzzle. Then I found this post from “SuperMom” about making a puzzle mat, and I loved it. All she did was cut some felt and rolled it around a mailing tube. I wanted to make mine a little nicer, but I liked the way she thought.
My mom made these awesome scarves out of felt a while ago and had some leftovers (she scored some of the patterns on sale and bought large pieces), so I went down to her place and asked what her largest leftover piece was. She had several yards of this cute burgundy “cable knit” pattern. Great! The color is nice, and the pattern’s not too “busy” so it won’t interfere with the puzzle building! Plus, the lines on the fabric made it super easy to cut. I had an old mailing tube from a photograph I had enlarged (thanks, Zee & Ruel!), and I just put the mailing tube I had on the fabric, saw where the cable pattern line matched up, and cut what I needed. Yay, no measuring or marking! This was awesome.
The first DIY page I looked at had you wrap the felt around an old wrapping paper tube, pin the fabric, carefully remove the tube, then sew the “sleeve” for the tube and replace the tube into the sleeve. So much work! Plus, I didn’t really like the idea of using an old wrapping paper tube – it seemed too lightweight. What if I accidentally put my elbow on it and crushed it? The second DIY page uses a cardboard mailing tube, which I liked the idea of, and it doesn’t attach the tube to the fabric at all – but then that’s just a piece of felt and a mailing tube. I wanted to attach the tube to the felt somehow, but I also wanted the option to remove the tube. Wouldn’t it be horrible if the tube – it’s pretty heavy since it’s a mailing tube – fell off the edge of a table and took my puzzle along with it?! Velcro to the rescue! I cut four pieces of sticky-back Velcro, spaced them out, and while they were stuck together I placed them on the edge of the felt. Then I removed the paper from the other sticky back side, and rolled the tube and fabric so that the velcro stuck and closed the “sleeve” for my mailing tube.
Yay! I was done! Well, kind of – I had to trim the raw edge off one side of my fabric before cutting it to the length of the mailing tube – I thought it would be kind of cool to reuse the strip, to tie the mat closed when I had it rolled up. I just cut the strip in half and the lengths were perfect! Plus – another bonus from using a mailing tube – I can store the strips inside when the mat’s open!
I was really happy with the way this project came out. I got to reuse things that were around the house, I saved money by not having to go out and buy a jigsaw puzzle mat, and now I can work on my puzzle! All in all, pretty awesome. And I didn’t have to sew a stitch, either!
MLB San Francisco Giants ATT Park Puzzle
Duck Brand Twist-n-Pull Tamper Proof Mailing Tube, 3 x 24 Inches
Velcro Sticky-Back Hook & Loop Fastener Roll In Dispenser Box, 3/4in X 15 Ft., Black
72” Rainbow Felt Black By The Yard
“There is no blue without yellow and without orange.”
~ Vincent Van Gogh
Browsing the Instructables.com site (which is awesome in and of itself), I found this super cool project to make a candle out of an orange (or almost any citrus fruit). We had some oranges left over from Chinese New Year, and this was a great, simple experiment.
Start by cutting the orange in half:
then, remove the meat of the orange, being careful not to tear out the middle membrane, which will be used as the wick (cool, eh?).
Now you have a vessel for your oil, complete with a wick to light. Fill ‘er up! Any kitchen oil will do. I had some red pepper olive oil that was old – but it was kind of a happy accident, because I think the colors made it really nice looking – like a blood orange candle.
Then light it!
Wait. Remember, kids. Anytime you’re playing with fire, always have a fire extinguisher nearby:
The orange fiber wick actually isn’t ready for lighting right away – it’s got to dry out a bit (especially since you probably got orange juice all over it when you were removing the meat!), and the oil has to soak into the orange wick to really give the flame something to burn. I singed the top of the wick to try to dry it out, and then, voilà!
It worked! Here’s what it looks like with less light in the room – it’s cool how you can really see the fibers on the inside of the orange for a bit before the camera adjusts and blows out the light – and then it just looks cool because of how bright the orange glows!
This was a great experiment. Not that we have oranges in our kitchen ALL the time, but it’s neat to know that if there’s a blackout, we can make a long-burning candle in a pinch as long as we have a citrus fruit lying around.
Today, our friend Wayne is taking off for his last American adventure before heading back home to Australia. He hopped in his rental car this morning, and is heading off to Tuscon, Arizona, just a short, 14-hour drive away. Crazy!
When he first came to visit, I had my coin cleaning project drying on the table still, and that led to a discussion about our respective currencies. It’s always fascinating to me to learn the intricacies of another country’s currency, and to hear a native of that country explain it – because to them, it’s a normal, everyday thing, while to me it’s so new and different. I showed Wayne all the different State quarters I was collecting, and even pulled out some Australian coins we had from our one visit to Sydney, before starting on the cruise we all met on. Australia has $1 and $2 coins instead of bills, and their smallest bill is a $5. All of their bills are different colors, and while they’re all the same height, they each get a bit longer the more valuable the bill is.
Wayne explained that Australian bills (and New Zealand ones too) are actually made of plastic. They’re extremely tear-resistant, and water-proof. He even said if you put an Australian bill in the oven, it would shrink while keeping its shape and form – like a Shrinky Dink (something Nick hadn’t experienced until last year)! He said he knew that because he had a friend that did it, and while Wayne wasn’t there to see it actually take place, he’d seen his friend’s miniature $5 bill. Wayne even produced an Australian $5 to show how it indeed was made of plastic. There’s also a clear plastic window in the corner of the bill, and lots of other counterfeit-deterrent features on the bills – the $5 having the least though, since it’s the least valuable.
Well, in honor of Wayne’s visit, we decided to test the theory/story today. I tried to find more information online about people shrinking Australian bills, and actually did find a short article on the site Grand-Illusions.com, but the video in the article proved somewhat unhelpful. I wanted to see the bill shrinking in action, to see how it behaved in the oven, and I wanted more details on the temperature used. The bill on the site didn’t come out looking all that great, and I wanted to be sure our final product would look cool, so it wouldn’t just be a waste of a perfectly good $5. After all, we do intend to visit Australia again, so we could use the currency!
We decided that if we were going to shrink the bill, we might as well put a hole in it so we could attach it to a keychain, instead of just having a miniature, unusable Australian bill lying around the house. We punched a hole in one of the corners. Sorry, your majesty! It’s in the name of science!
The site said the note would shrink at “190 Centigrade” which works out to about 375 Farenheit. That actually is the temperature that Shrinky Dinks are supposed to be heated at, so I figured I’d go for 375F and hope. I made sure to preheat the oven, but also the pan, as I remembered that’s what the instructions from the Shrinky Dinks we used last year stated. Here’s what happened:
Super cool! Here’s Nick checking out the handiwork for some perspective on how tiny the bill actually got:
Before and After:
This was really neat – while of COURSE I’m not encouraging anyone to deface legal tender, we just couldn’t pass this one up. An Australian $5 Shrinky Dink. How awesome is that?! We only regret not doing this when Wayne was still here, since he was SO keen on shrinking the $5. Since he left it here when he headed out to Tuscon, we HAD to do this. In fact, I think that was his plan all along. You win again, Wayne!
Australian Banknotes Wikipedia Page
“Part of the secret of a success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.”
~ Mark Twain
Tomorrow’s the Superbowl, and even though we don’t care too much about the outcome, it’s a great excuse to have a get-together, which is also a great excuse for me to do something fun like this – build an edible stadium out of snack foods for people to munch on.
I found the idea for this at HolyTaco.com, and followed their instructions *almost* to the letter, starting out with “put all your ingredients on a table and take a crappy picture of them”. I thought that was pretty funny.
I constructed the Slim Jim goalposts:
Refried beans “dirt” and guacamole “turf” was added to my field (the Holy Taco version doesn’t include beans, but my stadium needed to be smaller, so I used a different pan which gave me more room for different fillings):
The goal posts were placed, and then the end zones were poured:
The lonely playing field. Time to build the stands.
I placed the field on a baking sheet so I could lift the whole thing and put the perishable items in the fridge overnight. The rest of the stadium would be built with Twinkies and Zingers, to hold chips and snacks for dipping in the delicious playing field, and for dessert after the supply of munchies had been devoured. I started with the inside ring of snack cakes, and added pretzel sticks to hold the next tasty building material.
Nick oven-crisped some delicious bacon for me, and I weaved the strips through the pretzel sticks to create a barrier for the chips so they wouldn’t rush the field.
Planning and construction of the first layers began:
Pretzel stick posts and more snack cakes later:
A few more strips of bacon to separate the crowd, and the stadium is complete! Just like with the real game, tomorrow we draw the lines, and fill it with players and fans. And then we eat them all.
“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine …”
~ Harry Dixon Loes
Last year, while helping Nick with I’ve Never Done That, I asked him if he had ever made a suncatcher. He hadn’t. So we picked up a suncatcher kit. Only this one was not just suncatchers, it was a nightlight suncatcher kit! So awesome. It came with five different suncatchers that you could paint yourself, hooks and suction cups for hanging them, and then the nightlight setup so you could choose one to have as a nightlight (and rotate them as you liked).
If you know me, you know how absolutely crazy I am about my nephew, Micah. He’s the coolest kid I know. We wanted to make these for Micah, but Nick never got a chance to make them. I was actually pretty stoked, because it seemed like a super cool project to me. Now I get to do it!
At first, I wanted to do the monkey suncatcher for Micah’s nightlight – I call him a monkey all the time. But HUGE BUMMER, the brown paint was all dried up! I’m assuming it was because we bought the kit about a year ago, but still – maybe these things should come with expiration dates. I could deal with that. Anyway, since brown was the major color used for the monkey, it looked like that was out. My other choice was the tiger. In Chinese tradition, tigers are supposed to be protectors, especially of children. Plus, it’s orange and black! Best colors ever!
I started out by filling in all the black parts of the tiger.
Then, as I went to fill in the orange … I found that the orange was dried out too!!! Oh man. In fact, I then tried every single other paint color, and they were ALL tried out. Horrible.
Well, I figured that it being a kid’s craft kit, the paint was most likely water soluble. So I added a bit of water to the orange tube, and stirred with a skewer. It pretty much worked, but the orange was considerably lighter. So I added some yellow goo from the yellow tube and some red goo from the red tube, and tried to mix that up as best I could. It was okay – not great, but okay. I used this mix to fill in the rest of the tiger. After it was all filled in, I decided the red and yellow bits of paint kind of gave it a more artsy quality anyway.
I attached the nightlight suncatcher holder, and also noticed that this nightlight was a light-sensing kind. Cool! Others just use a switch:
And after Mr. Tiger dried, voila! An awesome tiger suncatcher nightlight.
I’m totally disappointed that I didn’t get to do all the other suncatchers for the nightlight, so I think I’ll go to the craft store and see what kind of paints are available for suncatchers (I hope I don’t have to buy a whole kit with MORE suncatchers for this!). When they’re all done, I think it will be a cool set for The Kid to have.
Xtreme Sun Nite Lite Kit: Safari
Xtreme Sun Nite Lite Kit, Princess
I learned to knit either in middle or high school – I can’t remember which – and I think I just learned on a whim. My great-grandmothers both knitted (I still have blankets from them), my grandmothers did too, and my mom did as well – though each generation knitted less than the one before. I guess you could say the trend continued. I learned how to knit and crochet, just the basic stitches, but I had never had the patience to finish any project – save I think one crocheted scarf.
On July 4th, 2011, my niece Rebekah was born, and the nation celebrated. The first granddaughter in the family, the first Baby Girl Yow in over 30 years. Awesome! Before she showed up last year, Nick built her a bunny. This year, I decided to knit her a blanket.
I actually bought the yarn for this project for Nick last year when we picked up the bunny kit. This was before we officially knew if there’d be a new nephew or niece, so I chose somewhat neutral colors (even though I really thought she’d be a girl). I started knitting on December 28th. I knew the holidays were going to be busy, but I wanted to finish this blanket in time for Rebekah’s baby dedication on 1/15. Here’s what I had after the first day of knitting (it was really just the start of it – I didn’t knit through that many rows).
I hadn’t really gotten too much of a chance to knit at large blocks at a time up until here, but at this point I only had two days left and the blanket was only a little over halfway done. I spent basically all my free time knitting from this day on. My hands were getting cramped! But I was determined (the blanket was to be two skeins worth of yarn).
Late night, January 14 (success!):
It’s not perfect, or fancy, but two skeins of yarn and 18 days from when I started, it’s done. A few challenges or snags (pun totally intended) along the way:
— Since I chose for the blanket to be two skeins of yarn large, I had to change yarns during the project (another first!)
— I should have measured the length of the row of stitches I started with (determining the width of the final blanket) – the blanket ended up being more square than I’d wanted
— I didn’t look closely enough at my work to catch mistakes, so I didn’t catch them until it was way too late to go back to fix them
— Using a circular needle would have made this piece more manageable, but I was just trying to use what I had
— I forgot I needed yarn to bind off or finish the end of the piece (enough to do a whole extra row), so I ended up running out of yarn, having to unravel an entire row to use for binding off and do it all over again.
Overall, this was a fun project – knitting is one of those things that can become a mindless, repetitive task (in a good way) and you can just take a time out, sit for a while, be still, and yet still be working on getting something done. Perfect for today’s crazy, constantly moving lifestyles that are sometimes almost completely devoid of “me” time. Although I felt super rushed to finish the blanket on a certain day, I’m glad it went this way, because I really am not sure if I’d have seen this project to completion if there hadn’t been a set deadline.
Hope she likes it! Looks like she does …